It’s been another excellent year for the self-styled Galaxy’s Greatest Comic and with the 100-page end of year special about to hit the shelves, it’s time to see whether 2000AD can stick the landing and end the year the same way it started it.
This is a jumping-on point for new readers with almost every story in the comic being either a one-off or the start of a new ongoing tale, so if you’re new to the title or a returning reader, now is an excellent time to give 2000AD a try. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.
Let’s start with Droid Life by Cat Sullivan, as it’s there at the front of the comic (and that’s always a good place to start). I don’t know whether Sullivan is trying to make a comment about the victory of callous, uncaring penny-pinching and greed over festive spirit, or if he’s just trying to take a mainstay of Christmas and turn it into something horrifying! Either way, he’s done an excellent job. It’s horrible – but in the right way – and, as always, the cartoon artwork is simply adorable; especially the jolly look on the face of the robo tree when he first appears.
Next up we have Judge Dredd and oh my god, Rob Williams what have you done?! I was expecting a sweet Christmas story based on the opening page, and maybe a few chuckles. What I got instead was a punch in the stomach from a script that makes you laugh and then possibly even cry. My goodness. We are two stories in and I’m already traumatised.
Henry Flint’s art should have been a dead giveaway that Williams’ script wasn’t going to be all fun and games. There’s a definite air of creepiness to his art (isn’t there always?) and it really brings out the mood of the story. Flint does an excellent job of catching exactly the right facial expression for each character in the story and for several of the characters (I first wrote “antagonists” there but I had to delete it because are they really the antagonists, or is Dredd the antagonist here? You decide) his art is giving us the only indicator of what they are thinking, and what they are actually wanting.
This is a brilliant combination of writing and art that leaves the question of exactly what has just happened open to debate. For my part, I’m on the side of the child in the one but I’d love to hear your views too.
Now we turn to Absalom, and this one is always worth a look. The gut-punching continues in this story, but in a different way. Anyone who’s ever felt that pang of protective instinct over family will find the motivation behind the eponymous Absalom in this outing.
As with so many Absalom stories, this one is a mixture of slow-paced, dialogue-driven story with fast-paced action sequences. It’s a formula that works well with group casts and that holds true for Gordon Rennie’s story here. As openings to new storylines go, this one is a good one. I look forward to seeing more,
The monochrome artwork of Tiernen Trevallion is suitably grotesque for this urban fantasy tale, where even most of the human cast are grimy and ugly. There’s none of that beauty everywhere-but-it’s-the-real-world-really nonsense here and that helps to sell the feel of the world the characters inhabit. It’s dirty, it’s ugly and it’s strangely compelling nevertheless.
Turning the page, we have a new outing for Kingdom. If you haven’t read it before, Kingdom is essentially Mad Max but with humanoid dogs and names that are puns based on famous people. It’s nowhere near as good a title as what we’ve seen elsewhere in this issue but it’s far from the worst thing 2000AD has ever published. It’s serviceable and if you’re a fan of action, there’s enough here to keep you entertained.
Script-wise, Dan Abnett has done an awful lot better than this in the past and it feels a lot like he’s really only here to fill the space in the comic. It’s readable, it’s enjoyable but, somewhat ironically for a story about ripping monsters to shreds, there’s not a lot of meat to this. Richard Elson’s artwork is nice and detailed but it suffers from that annoying problem of speaking characters being rendered with their mouths closed. It’s a real annoyance.
So when the next page is Bad Company and we see the stunning art courtesy of Dayglo and McCarthy, it’s a breath of fresh air. What we have here is a wonderful mix of old 2000AD’s punk aesthetic with modern computer drawing and shading techniques. The end result is something that would not look out of place alongside anything from 2000AD’s past or current line-up; which is no mean feat. I love it!
Peter Milligan’s script won’t make the best of sense if this is the first comic you’ve picked up in a while (it is episode 12 of a 12-part story, after all) but it has that old school war film feel to it, so you can slip into the plot quickly and with minimal discomfort. It’s low on background detail and high on rolling the plot along at a fast pace, toward its inevitable finale. I can’t fault it for that.
Miracle on 34 and Peltzer isn’t the kind of story you often see in 2000AD: it’s a short story, in text form. Written by Jonathan Green, it’s a standard Christmas tale for Judge Dredd but with the almost mandatory Dredd twist. At three pages, it’s not too long and it’s obvious from the start what’s going to happen but that doesn’t detract from the story. It’s fun, it’s a little saccharine in its own way but Dredd is perfectly written and as a result, it’s really enjoyable.
John Burns’ art is always a delight, especially when he is rendering epic battles and fantastic costumes like he is here for The Order. It’s good art that makes this slow-burner story from Kek-W something to enjoy. Burns’ detailed rendering of late Aztec cities and people is a treat.
The script itself isn’t anything to comment on at this point. This is the opening of what could well be a very enjoyable alternate history story but at this point, it’s difficult to tell. This opening episode sets the scene well but there’s little characterisation and little plot at this point. We are going to have to wait at least a week or two in order to decide where this story is going and whether it will be worth the trip. At present all I can say is that I’m not hating it, but I need to see more before I can make any further judgement.
Now we turn to A.B.C. Warriors and on my goodness, that opening page from Clint Langley is wonderful! Hammerstein looks superb and the fiery red background he’s in front of contrasts with him so well. This is fantastic!
The carnival of colour continues throughout the story and I have to say this is probably the best art I’ve seen in 2000AD in quite a while (and that’s saying something considering 2000AD generally has the best art in British comics). It’s a delight to look at.
Pat Mills’ script is excellent, too. Mills is a veteran writer who really knows how to put a story together. Although this is the first episode of what will no doubt be a few months’ worth of story, it’s packed with humour and moves along at a good pace, so although you’re getting a double-sized episode here, it doesn’t feel like it. This is well-written stuff and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
Speaking of well-written, Dan Abnett is doing a good turn here on Sinister Dexter. This is a one-off tale that re-establishes the gun-lovin’ criminals in their home city of Downlode (always introduced with “and this is Downlode” because there’s nothing like a good formula for telling interesting stories). Abnett begins with a humorous discussion between the main characters, in a Pulp Fiction style that has always worked really well for the pair, and he keeps the humour running from there. It’s a simple story, but it works really well.
Simon Davis is bringing wonderful art to the comic once again. I loved his grimy paint-splotched look when he worked on the original Sin/Dex stories back in the nineties and it still holds up well today. This is beautiful stuff – different to a lot of the other beautiful art in the comic, but beautiful nevertheless. He gives the grimy, worn-out world of Downlode a wonderful, neon-yet-film noir feel that is a sight to behold.
I don’t really know what to say about the Future Shocks story that’s up next. Martin Feekins has penned a sequel to a story that was printed in Prog 371 (cover date 02 June 1984) and it’s a typical old school story: zany antics and a twist on the final page that you probably won’t see coming. It’s really good fun, but wacky.
Jesus Redondo has provided some top class art to go with this old style story. It’s wonderfully detailed, features crazy aliens that looks superb and the whole feel of the story is such that it could easily have been printed 30 years ago without anyone spotting the difference if it was placed alongside strips from the time.
It’s like looking into the past, which is a wonderful way to draw a sequel to an old story. It’s perfect – and it’s good art to boot, so that makes it even better.
Finally, we have the old partnership of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra on Strontium Dog. As with several other stories in this issue, what we have here is an opening episode of an ongoing story; this one being a kind of bank heist tale but with a suitably Wagnerian spin on it.
Wagner’s writing is brilliant even when he’s having an off day so you know you’re going to get something good. I’m happy to say this story rounds out the comic in a good way. It starts with a joke, introduces the main characters in a way that shows off some of their personality, and ends on a cliffhanger. It may be formulaic to some extent, but it’s a formula that works.
Carlos Ezquerra is on equally fine form, delivering some fine artwork that’s both grimy and full of energy at the same time. If there’s anyone who can fill the page with ugly aliens and pretty women, all drawn in the same unique and instantly recognisable style, it’s Carlos Ezquerra.
He’s toned down his choppy outlines on foreground characters but even without that, I knew his artwork on sight and didn’t even need to check the byline to know who drew this. Ezquerra’s art is wonderful, and it’s a fine way to end this bumper-sized issue.
2000AD Prog 1961 ends a phenomenal year on top form. It’s packed with crazy antics, wacky characters and top-tier storytelling. If they can keep this pace up in 2016, we are looking at another fantastic year of comics. Prog 1961 comes out in print and online on Wednesday 16 December and will be in stores until the 5th of January, so make sure you get hold of a copy – you won’t be disappointed!